Singapore is watching the XBB strain of Covid-19 “very closely”, but there is no evidence that the new sub-variant is leading to more severe outcomes, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Tuesday.
"XBB is demonstrating characteristics that it is dominating over all other sub-variants. It has been detected in many parts of the world but in Singapore is rising very fast – within three weeks from nothing, it is now over half of all the daily cases," he said.
"But so far, what is good is that there's no evidence that it leads to more severe outcomes," Channel News Asia quoted the minister as saying.
Singapore reported 11,732 new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday but the Ministry of Health (MOH) said it was initiating action against rumours circulating via WhatsApp about a rapid and large increase in severe illness and deaths due to XBB strain, another Omicron subvariant.
MOH said on Tuesday that it was initiating the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) action against rumours circulating via WhatsApp that Singapore was having a rapid and large increase in cases of severe illness and deaths due to the circulating XBB strain.
"This is not true. We are initiating POFMA action against such falsehoods," Channel News Asia quoted MOH as saying.
The spike in Tuesday cases to 11,732 was largely driven by the XBB variant, but there are low severe cases overall, said the Ministry. This is the first time the daily caseload has exceeded 10,000 in more than two months.
In a breakdown of local COVID-19 cases by strain posted on MOH's website on Monday, the ministry said that about 55 per cent of infections stemmed from the XBB strain, which is also known as BA.2.10.
This was an increase from 22 per cent in the preceding week, MOH said.
BA.5 is responsible for about 21 per cent of cases, while BA.2.75 responsible for 24 per cent. Both are also Omicron subvariants.
MOH said the "number of severe cases has remained relatively low. This is very likely due to the resilience built up through vaccination and previous waves of infection".
Singapore reported 4,719 new Covid-19 cases on Monday while Tuesday’s number is usually higher due to infections reported from weekend social events.
There were 11 intensive care unit (ICU) cases and 50 who needed oxygen supplementation, a figure MOH said was "just slightly higher than the level observed in the past few months".
This compares with the 171 ICU cases and 308 cases requiring oxygen supplementation at the peak of the Delta wave, and the 54 ICU cases and 242 cases requiring oxygen supplementation at the peak of the Omicron wave, MOH pointed out.
"The increase in hospitalised cases is in line with the overall increase in cases. There are currently 490 hospitalised cases compared to 1,600 at the peak of the Delta wave and about 800 at the peak of the Omicron wave," the ministry said.
"However, our hospitals' emergency departments (ED) continue to be very busy, we encourage members of the public not to rush to the ED unless they are experiencing an emergency medical condition."
Patients who walk into emergency departments with non-emergency conditions, including children, will be diverted to other urgent care clinics or primary care clinics for further assessment in order to prioritise resources for patients who need medical care, MOH said.
Earlier on Tuesday, MOH said that it will bring forward the administration of the Moderna/Spikevax bivalent vaccine to October 14, three days ahead of schedule.
The early roll-out was made possible by the ministry's operations teams completing preparations ahead of the deadline, according to media reports.
In addition, there are "benefits to administering early as infections are rising due to the XBB Omicron subvariant", said MOH.
"The bivalent Moderna/Spikevax vaccine is based on the same original vaccine, with the same dosage for boosting," added MOH.
"Instead of targeting only the original COVID-19 virus, the updated version also targets the Omicron variant. It therefore will provide better protection against newer COVID-19 variants. It is proven to be safe and effective," media reports had the ministry saying.
As of Tuesday, Singapore had 1,969,648 COVID-19 cases and 1,634 deaths since the disease broke here.